More to Singapore Day than its million-dollar price tag

More to Singapore Day than its million-dollar price tag
Singapore Day is an event organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit under the Prime Minister's Office to engage Overseas Singaporeans and their families. Held in cities with a significant community of Overseas Singaporeans, it is a single-day annual event designed to give Singaporeans a "slice of home while overseas" through food, performances, information updates on the situation in Singapore and career options to entice them to return to the country.

SINGAPORE - In the spirit of full disclosure, I was one of the 12,000 people who went for Singapore Day in London in 2009.

Then a first-year undergraduate prone to chronic bouts of homesickness, I embarrassingly felt a little weepy at sight of the fake ERP gantry thoughtfully set up by some Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) person at the park's entrance.

The fake gantry was fairly corny but, as far as I was concerned, it felt about as evocative as the "Welcome Home" banners at Changi Airport's arrival halls.

I had a great time eating Hokkien mee, meeting friends and, yes, even queueing for the food (I think).

In short, Singapore Day was pretty great. But I also felt a little guilty about being so privileged - more so later when I learnt that the bash cost $6 million, at a time when Singapore was undergoing a recession.

Similar mixed sentiments surfaced online after Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a written parliamentary answer on Monday that this year's edition - also in London - cost $4.4 million.

Critics questioned whether it was worth going through all the expense to throw a party for Singaporeans overseas.

Most criticism generally went along two lines: First, that it cost a lot of money.

Singapore Day, usually held once a year in a major city with a big concentration of overseas Singaporeans, has never been cheap.

About $3 million was budgeted for the Melbourne edition (2008), $2 million for Shanghai (2011) and $4 million for New York (2012).

A large chunk of the bill is attributed to the higher cost of living in these cities - the carnival's physical set-up in London in 2009 already cost $3 million, for instance.

Obviously, this is a lot in absolute terms.

The bill for this year's Singapore Day is about a third of that of the 2012 National Day Parade - $17.2 million.

That nationwide bash was broadcast to the whole of Singapore and watched live by about 125,000 people.

Put that way, the amount spent seems disproportionate to the people it reaches.

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